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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 25, 2002

Pitfalls still there for writers and editors

By Jim Kelly
Advertiser Executive Editor

A reader from Waikiki was understandably baffled by two recent stories.

On Aug. 16, we ran a Los Angeles Times story on Page A9 about a study commissioned by the Defense Department that found it was increasingly difficult for the military to recruit people. The lead of the story said "efforts by the military to bolster its recruitment ranks are bearing little fruit."

Four days later, we ran a USA Today story on the front page on the same subject. "2002 a banner year for recruiters," the headline read.

So what gives? the reader asked. The study reported by the Times focused on incentives that the military uses to attract young people into service. It also appeared that most of the report was based on data collected before Sept. 11 and before the economy went into a nosedive.

But the Times also made the point that recruiting was "largely unaffected by the terrorist" attacks and that even though the Army had met its goal of attracting 80,000 recruits in each of the last three years, the number is far below its target of 145,000 recruits per year in the 1980s.

The USA Today quoted military officials saying exactly the opposite as the Times, that they believed a renewed sense of patriotism, combined with the lousy job market, had nudged more people toward military service.

It's an undeniable flaw in the imperfect craft of daily journalism that different reporters working on the same story can reach different conclusions, depending on what their sources tell them and how they choose to look at information. Clearly, the Times took the glass-is-half-empty approach while USA Today took the opposite tack.

But we didn't help readers by simply running both stories and failing to acknowledge the apparent contradiction.

At a minimum, we should have added a paragraph to the USA Today story saying that a recently released report had raised questions about the long-term effectiveness of military recruiting.

• • •

Several readers have asked when we will publish our voters' guide for the elections.

Our guides to the elections will be published on Sept. 16, five days before the primary election, and on Oct. 29, a week before the general election. The information also will be posted on our Web site.

The guides will give you a lot of background on the 388 people running for office on all the Islands. We'll also include maps that describe the new council and legislative districts so you can easily figure out who's running in your area.

Speaking of elections, some readers asked why, in the Aug. 16 story about the legislative race in the McCully-Mo'ili'ili neighborhood, we focused almost exclusively on the Democratic candidates, Scott Saiki and Terry Nui Yoshinaga, and barely mentioned the Republican, Christopher Kelly, who is unopposed in the primary.

We focused on the Democrats because the redrawing of the district means that Saiki and Yoshinaga, both incumbents, will face each other in the primary. The winner will then face Kelly in the general election, and we probably should have included some of his comments in the story.